By Matt Cosper
Photo: Jay Weinmiller
Charlotte’s John W. Love Jr. has received a Creative Capital Award for his upcoming project, The Cathedral of Messes. Creative Capital is one of the most significant granting programs in the U.S., because of the depth and breadth of support offered. This award is a coup for Love, and not only from a status perspective, although it does certainly contribute to leveling up his stature.
With decades of creative work under his belt, Love is widely respected as an artist who wields an imagination as kaleidoscopic and maximalist as it is unapologetic. His work unfolds with a fractal inevitability as faceted as the mineral materials he molds. His is a crystalline ingenuity; mythic in its scope. The man is an actual sorcerer. But fear not, he marshalls his powers for the greater good: the slaying of grand dragons and the liberation of us all. If this sounds grandiose, get used to it. John Love is too much and he’s glorious.
He has grown from a fierce and funny performer in theatre and film (see his brief but hilarious turn as a bus rider in Talladega Nights) into an interdisciplinary solo artist creating cerebral and sensual performance events. This has been a matter of achieving personal clarity, as Love has insisted on becoming ever more himself. The term Love used for himself in a recent conversation was “diseur.” It’s French for “solo entertainer” and its connotations match both the letter and the spirit of Love’s performance work. Indeed, one of the most compelling things about Love’s body of work is a blend of the sacred in his monologues with an undeniable whiff of cabaret seediness. The performances he makes are as encoded with the erotic as they are with underworld journies of spiritual import. There is a tension here that Love leans into and it can make people uncomfortable.
Love’s career took a sharp turn in 2010 when he appeared at the inaugural TedXCharlotte event. He closed out the evening performing as one of his avatars, The Perpetually Pregnant Man, a creature of whom Love has said “The voice is not me, but it’s me adjacent.” Although he had been invited to perform at the event, the material he was channeling was perhaps a bit too much for the sensibilities of the folks in charge. They panicked and cut the live stream, trying to shut the whole thing down. A nice little hullabaloo ensued and when the dust settled Love was the first individual artist to receive the Arts and Science Council’s prestigious (and generous) McColl Award. This award was specifically to fund the development of that Perpetually Pregnant material into his seminal installation and performance work Fecund. Fecund is the work that led to Love being awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. And now Love has received a Creative Capital Award for The Cathedral of Messes. The man has a gift for spinning controversy into cache.
The award comes with serious resources, which includes funding for The Cathedral of Messes as well as aid designed to support the sustainability and growth of his practice beyond this next project. Founded in the wake of the National Endowment for the Arts near meltdown (some might say moral failure) in the culture wars of the 1990s, Creative Capital is proof that sometimes the good guys get it right. The organization has invested nearly $50 million dollars in advisory support and project funding since its founding and is a major player in the cultural life of this country.
What makes Creative Capital unique is the professional development it offers grantees. This includes intangibles, such as membership in a large national community of artists, as well as nuts-and-bolts career support including advice on financial or legal matters. Between direct funding and the aforementioned career support Creative Capital commits $100,000 to each of the selected artists. These artists represent some of the best and brightest minds working in the fields of literature, technology, visual arts, performance and socially engaged art. Quite the cabal to become enmeshed in and quite the launching pad for the next phase in project Love.
Part installation and part performance The Cathedral of Messes builds on Love’s preferred method of surrealist world building. Love’s process of creation begins with enrobing various objects and structures with salt crystals. Love particularly reveres Alum, an astringent substance which he describes as “a salt that clears water and stops bleeding.” These are statements of scientific fact, but Love pronounces them with the fervency of a mystic, speaking of unearthing narratives through the physical processes he engages in. These alchemical processes are sites of mystery out of which characters and stories emerge. “You don’t know what you have until you are in the middle of it,” Love said. He makes the objects (in one past instance a salt encrusted coat) and then those objects beg the question of what kind of world and what kind of characters would that object be in relationship with (“Who wears the salt coat?”).
This process of aesthetic archeology will result in a work whose structure no one (perhaps not even Love himself) can guess. In the meantime, as Love works out a plan of attack for this project and beyond, Creative Capital has published this brief description of what to expect, composed with a florid mythologizing typical of Love: “Stylistically, it’s the scene of a crime: a mystic has assassinated his inner saboteur. Crystalline enshrined shoes and body parts of sculpted black salt float in a sea of video, literature, and performance in an installation dedicated to obliterating a virus known as shame.”